Revised Forecast

February 20, 2009 • Media Economics • by

Schweizer Journalist, 12/2008 + 1/2009

Philip Meyer, “elder statesman” among American journalism researchers, believes he’s been misunderstood.

Meyer responds by piecing together his own prognosis. Frequently quoted in the press stating that the last printed newspaper would roll off the presses around the year 2040, Meyer now clarifies his statement, claiming it had been intended as a trend extrapolation.

He says, “but newspaper publishers are not so relentlessly stubborn that we can expect them to continue churning out papers until there is only one reader left.” The industry, he continues, would “lose critical mass and collapse long before then.” However, he admits that five years ago he still “underestimated the velocity of the Internet effect,” going on to say, “It is now clear that it is as disruptive to today’s newspapers as Gutenberg’s invention of movable type was to the town criers, the journalists of the 15th century.” According to Meyer’s most recent contribution in the American Journalism Review, the “endgame of the newspaper is in sight.” The researcher expects that in the near future, many newspapers will only be printed once or twice a week.

Only a few days after Meyer’s speculation was published, the smallest of the national newspapers in the U.S., the Christian Science Monitor, announced it would adopt the exact plan Meyer had predicted.

Lack of realism in Old Europe?

Press experts from the German-speaking world are much more optimistic about the future of newspapers.  In fact, the contrast couldn’t be more pronounced.

Commissioned by the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, Stephan Weichert and Leif Kramp interviewed 43 press experts about the future of newspaper Zukunft der Qualitätspresse befragt. Forty-one of them – or 95 percent – foresee no lethal danger for the “classical, printed paper” within the next 20 to 30 years. A few of the interviewed experts quoted Riepl’s Law, according to which new media won’t displace old media, but will instead attribute new functions. Riepl’s analyis, stemming from 1913, originally focused on media in ancient times, but proved true later on with the arrival of radio and television. This, however, does not necessarily mean Riepl’s followers have a case with the Internet. “The main problem over here is that publishing houses still are disavowing that there is no future outside the Internet,” says media consultant Robin Meyer-Lucht from the Berlin Institute, a pioneer of online journalism research.

Sources: Philip Meyer, “The Elite Newspaper of the Future,” American Journalism Review, November/December 2008

Translation by Karin Eberhardt

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